Restaurant Review: Cafe Rouge, The Mailbox, Birmingham

It’s rare that I eat at chain restaurants. Not because of a sense of snobbery, just because there’s so much choice out there, and so much good cuisine, that it seems somewhat unimaginative. Of course there are times when it makes good sense to use my Tesco points combined with their clubcard boost offer to eat out for “free” because sometimes you still want that dining out experience, even when there’s too much month at the end of the money.

Last Tuesday was my Mom’s birthday. We had tickets for a 7.30 theatre performance so I suggested pre-show drinks and dinner. Now, my Mom isn’t a fussy eater as such, but she knows what she likes. Doesn’t eat Italian food (doesn’t like pasta – I mean, HOW???), doesn’t eat peppers or seafood and I was struggling to think of a place to go where we could park, drink and find a menu that would suit her tastes. Going down the steak train of thought (who doesn’t like a good steak) I settled on Café Rouge, so we could have drinks at the Marco Pierre White Bar at the top of the Cube and dinner overlooking the waterways (Mom isn’t familiar with that part of the City so it was something a bit different) before heading over the road to the theatre.

What can I say. Both the food and dining experience exceeded my expectations and then some. We got to the restaurant at around 5.30 and there were only a handful of other diners so we had our pick of seating. We sat near the window for a canalside view and, as the restaurant is on the third floor, we could see all around across to Brindley Place, Gas Street Basin and all of the city living apartments in the vicinity.

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The interior of the restaurant is decorated in a French bistro style, similarly to others in the chain (I’ve only eaten at a Café Rouge once before, in Nottingham many years ago). Red and cream colour palette, rattan chairs, checked table cloths, wooden floors and soft lighting with a large bar and big airy windows. Background music was perfect – loud enough to hear without being overpowering and a nice mix of mood lifting jazzy numbers.

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The menu is full of rustic and “cosy” food – meats, breads and cheeses with sauces and chutneys. We chose starters of “Champignons à l’ail” (mushrooms in a cèpe & garlic cream sauce on grilled rye & caraway bread) and “Pàté” (chicken liver, grilled rye & caraway bread and chutney). Both were delicious – really good size portions, fresh and tasty . The pate was served on a wooden board with plenty of bread and chutney (I hate it when a restaurant is stingy with accompaniments and you run out before the end of your meal – not the case here) and the mushrooms were plentiful in a rich and creamy sauce.

For main course we both ordered “Steak Frites” choosing the 7oz fillet and peppercorn sauce, with a greedy double carb side order of dauphinoise potatoes. The steak was as good as any I’ve ever eaten – even at 3 times the price – cooked exactly to our liking, juicy, and so so tender.

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I wouldn’t usually order steak in a pub or chain restaurant having been disappointed so many times before, but this was outstanding. I’m so glad I had a last minute change of heart – I was all set to go for the beef bourguignon but then got “The Fear” when my Mom ordered and feared I may be missing out if I didn’t order the same as her.

Overall a great experience – the staff were friendly and attentive without being overbearing, and the early dining time meant the restaurant was nicely empty (from a selfish point of view!) With an outside seating terrace this will be a lovely location for summer afternoons. I was very pleasantly surprised, and I’ll definitely be back!

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